FROM THE EDITOR: Fixing homelessness starts with affordable housing
By Ben Rodgers
With the spotlight centered firmly on the homelessness problem not only in Brown County, but the rest of Wisconsin, now is the time for meaningful action from local and state leaders.
Some numbers in our local report that highlighted last week’s banner issue show just how serious this problem is and how one issue can easily lead to another, which only exacerbates the problem.
• St. John’s Homeless Shelter reported one in five of the hundreds of clients it serves each year is between the ages of 18 and 24.
• The National Low-Income Housing Coalition reported Brown County has a deficiency of more than 8,000 affordable and available homes for people who earn 50 percent or less of the area’s median income.
• For the 2017-18 school year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said one in 22 students in the Green Bay Area Public School District reported being homeless at some point during the year.
• The Ecumenical Housing Partnership said 80 percent of the families it helps here are experiencing generational poverty.
There is no cut-and-dry solution to solving the homelessness problem, but a good place to start is to address the most expensive cost related to living – housing.
A report from the United Way explained how a family of four in Brown County would need to make a combined $31.90 an hour just to meet the minimum to live today.
Wisconsin needs a new and dynamic approach to creating more housing for people earning below 30 percent of Brown County’s median income.
This is housing for people making little more than minimum wage or living on fixed incomes, such as Social Security or disability payments.
This is the most dire need across not only in Brown County, but the entire state.
The private sector needs more incentives to work with governments and nonprofits to create such housing.
Housing is already tight in Brown County, with roughly 500 available homes for a population approaching 250,000.
Couple that tightness with the fact that the average price of a home in Brown County has increased 59 percent since 2000, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, and it’s clear how shaky the ground is for those on the brink of homelessness.
The outlook for renting an apartment isn’t any better.
A quick search of available units in Green Bay shows almost nothing available for two-bedroom units for under $600 a month. That is if someone can first get approved.
Wisconsin should revisit its tenant laws and consider financial insurance for landlords who rent to people with risky credit and past evictions.
The Legislature softened tenant protections in recent years, making it harder for many people living on the edge with financial difficulties to find affordable housing.
When looking at housing and the numbers above, it’s important to understand by not working to provide affordable housing, we are only making life harder for future generations.
The rise in families dealing with generational poverty, or being impoverished their whole lives, will only continue to grow.
As homeless numbers continue to climb – nearly 20,000 in Wisconsin now – if something isn’t done to address affordable housing, we can expect that 80 percent of homeless people dealing with generational poverty to grow, which in turn will mean even more children without a better chance to succeed in life.
If we as a state truly care about each other, now is the time to act.